Lesotho: Govt Incurs M212 000 Mahase Legal Bill

19 October 2019

THE government's insistence on hiring a South African lawyer, Advocate Guido Heinz Penzhorn, to defend Acting Chief Justice 'Maseforo Mahase in the impeachment case brought against her by All Basotho Convention (ABC) secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, has come back to bite it.

This after the Durban-based lawyer demanded M212 285, 58 for his work on the case so far. The amount includes a M24 000 claim for four hours' work for consultation and perusal of documents related to the case. Adv Penzhorn also wants M54 000 for appearing at the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court on 2 October 2019.

The lawyer's claims are contained in an invoice titled: Memorandum of Fees due to: GH Penzhorn SC which was seen by the Lesotho Times this week.

Adv Penzhorn was engaged by the government last month to defend Justice Mahase in a case where Mr Hlaele wants the Constitutional Court to compel the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to impeach the acting chief justice over her alleged impropriety in the handling of cases relating to the power struggle in the fractious ruling party.

ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his party deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, are locked in vicious struggle for control of the party. The infighting which began after Dr Thabane and some party bigwigs rejected Prof Mahao's candidature and subsequent election as ABC deputy leader, has seen Dr Thabane "expelling" Prof Mahao, Mr Hlaele, chairperson Samuel Rapapa, Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and 'Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson) from the party. Mr Hlaele and others were "expelled" for backing Prof Mahao in the power struggle.

However, the five have refused to accept their "expulsions" and they have instead "suspended" Dr Thabane from the party for six years. The infighting has also sparked court litigations and counter-litigations. Justice Mahase has handled some of the court cases and she has been accused of bias by the Mahao faction hence Mr Hlaele's application for her impeachment.

Attorney General, Haae Phoofolo, the JSC and His Majesty, King Letsie III are also cited as respondents in Mr Hlaele's application.

Adv Phoofolo recently told this publication that the government was in negotiations with a law firm to represent Justice Mahase in the case that will decide whether or not she remains as acting chief justice.

It has since emerged that the government, at the behest of Justice Mahase, settled for Adv Penzhorn who is demanding M212 285, 58 for services rendered thus far. It remains to be seen how much the final bill will be but Justice Mahase would not have to worry about the humongous legal fees that might ensue as the government will pick up the tab.

Adv Penzhorn's 10 October 2019 invoice to the government indicates that for now he wants M212 285, 58 for the work he did from 29 September to 10 October 2019.

The amount is broken down as follows: M24 000 for four hours of perusing documents and consultation on 29 to 30 September 2019, preparation and travel form Durban to Maseru and Maseru to Durban (M60 000) and M54 000 for his appearance at the High Court in Maseru on 2 October 2019.

There are further charges of M60 000 charge for the 10 hours Adv Penzhorn spent preparing heads of argument from 7 to 10 October 2019. He also wants M11 575, 22 for flight tickets and accommodation at OR Tambo International Airport, M2 710, 36 for accommodation at Avani Lesotho from 2 to 3 October 2019 as well as M1200 for typing documents for four hours.

The invoice is addressed to the Attorney General and the Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs.

Well-placed sources say Adv Phoofolo, who was initially against paying Justice Mahase's fees, only made an undertaking that government would foot her legal fees after clashing with Dr Thabane who allegedly threatened to dismiss him if he did not ensure Justice Mahase's bills were paid by the state.

The sources said Adv Phoofolo argued that Justice Mahase should foot her own legal fees just like suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara who is said to have paid her own bills in her ongoing legal battle with Dr Thabane who wants her impeached for alleged gross misconduct.

While the sources maintained that he had been pressured by the premier, Adv Phoofolo denied that he had agreed to the state assuming Justice Mahase's bills after being threatened with dismissal by Dr Thabane.

"I have not been instructed to do that (undertaking to pay bills) but we are going to pay her (Justice Mahase's) legal costs," Adv Phoofolo recently told the Lesotho Times.

"It is not true that there was an argument regarding this matter." Asked why the government was paying Justice Mahase's legal costs when Justice Majara paid for herself, Adv Phoofolo said the cases were not similar and "I don't want to talk about that lady (Justice Majara)".

Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Habofanoe Lehana, did not respond to the Lesotho Times' inquiries on the issue despite promising to do so yesterday.

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